Waiting - Longest Night Gathering, 2016

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Waiting - Longest Night Gathering, 2016

Advent is traditionally a time of waiting...when we sit with the way things really are, as painful and broken as they really are, in our world and in our lives, and hold them tenderly and gently, with the hope for how things are meant to be. Advent is about saying there is this beautiful world we all want to believe in and be living in. And there is a terrible not-yet-ness about that world. Advent is about facing the truth of what is right now, and remembering what it takes to get to a Christmas kind of world. The Longest Night is a time during Advent when we can let ourselves embrace that darkness fully, strip away our facades and sit in the barrenness and despair, lose ourselves in tears and lament, and in the process,  perhaps find ourselves and hope again. 

For this Longest Night gathering we brought people together around a stark, bare birch tree. When they entered the space they were invited to sit in a circle around this tree. On each of their chairs they found several strips of paper and a pen, tied with a ribbon. There were also several large empty jars placed around the dimly lit room. 

 

Waiting: A Gathering for the Longest Night

 

Singing Prelude

            Peace of God be With You

           

Peace of God be with you.  Peace of God be with you.

Salaam.  Salaam.  Peace of God be with you.

 

Welcome

 

Opening Responses

 

1.         It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. We are surrounded by  happy  little Christmas songs, in stores, in churches, on every street corner, in every elevator we step into.

 

All:       But inside us, there is a darkness, aching. A night crying.

1.         Everywhere we turn, pretty sparkling lights shimmer and shine on  beautiful green trees…

2.         Yet, sometimes…we feel like trees that have lost their leaves, stripped down to bone, vulnerable, naked, easily breakable.

All:       Inside us, there is a darkness, aching. A night crying.

 1.         Everyone seems to want us to be merry. Sing about joy.

All:       Inside us, there is a darkness, aching. A night crying.

2.         People tell us to let our hearts be bright.

1.         But inside us, and yes…when we really look, really see…                 

           all around us…  there is a darkness, aching.

All:       A night crying.

2.         Because it isn’t Christmas yet.

1.         The light has not yet come.

All:       Sometimes we aren’t even sure if it will come.

 2.         Or if, when it comes, it will be enough to make a difference.

All:       Tonight, on this darkest of nights, we come together.

1.         To acknowledge the anguish, the anger, the losses, the longings.

            Find our tears.

2.         Cry out for something new to be born.

All:       Tonight, O God on this longest of nights, we come together to search for and wait for the advent of your hope, your peace,  your love, maybe even, your joy.

 

 

Singing Together       

            Waiting for You

 

Chorus

We are waiting for you. We are waiting for you.

We are waiting for that Gloria in excelsis Deo.  

 

Bridge (sing multiple times)

Let us be a sign of hope;

Let us be your arms of love.

Let us be the ones that say there is another way.

 

Last Chorus:

We are waiting for you.

You are waiting for us, too.

We are waiting for that Gloria in excelsis Deo.

 

Reading from the Bible

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.    (Psalm 22:1-2)

All:       My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

You keep track of all my sorrows.

You have collected all my tears in your bottle. (Psalm 56:8)

 All:       You have collected my tears in your bottle.

 

Singing Together

            Longest Nights

 

Chorus:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God with us. Love for us.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, born into the longest nights

Emmanuel.

 

Prayers and Laments

Liturgist: You have been given several strips of paper and a pen. During the next few moments, we will be spending some time in prayer and lament. Scriptures and stories will guide us through this time. As you would like, write down your laments and prayers on the paper. We will be coming around and collecting them in these jars.

Join us now as we cry out to God for ourselves, our families and neighbors, for the dis-ease and despairs, the loss and heartbreaks, for the shame and fear and loneliness we try to swallow every day

            Reading from the Bible

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a piece of broken pottery, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.   (Psalm 22:14-15)

 All:      I am poured out like water. My heart is like wax.

 

A Lament from poet Ranier Marie Rilke:

It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock

in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;

I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,

and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief

so this massive darkness makes me small.

You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:

then your great transforming will happen to me,

and my great grief cry will happen to you.

 

A Carol

                        Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

 

Comfort, comfort ye my people,

speak of peace, thus says our God;

comfort those who sit in darkness,

burdened by a heavy load.

           

To Jerusalem proclaimGod will take away your shame;       

Now get ready to recover;guilt and suffering are over.

 

Straighten out what has been crooked;

make the roughest places plain.

Let your hearts be true and humble,

live as fits God's holy reign.

 

Soon the glory of the Lord shall on earth be shed abroad.    

Human flesh shall surely see it; God is ready to decree it.

 

Liturgist: Join us now as we call out to God in anguish for our neighborhoods, our cities and our nation, for injustice and racism and fear of differences that tears us apart, wounds us all. 

 

Reading from the Bible

O Lord, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you stand to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all around me, and there is fighting and quarreling everywhere. The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted.   (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

 

All:       O Lord, how long before you listen,

            how long before you save us?

 

A Lament from Danez Smith, from the poem: not an elegy for Mike Brown

I am sick of writing this poem

but bring the boy. his new name

his same old body. ordinary, black

dead thing. bring him & we will mourn

until we forget what we are mourning

& isn’t that what being black is about?

not the joy of it, but the feeling

you get when you are looking

at your child, turn your head,

then, poof, no more child.

that feeling. that’s black.

 

           

Singing Together

 

               In this world

 

 

Chorus

I lift my eyes up to the hills

I lift my eyes to know what’s true

I lift my eyes and then I see

 

You...In this world

I see You...In this world

I see You...In this world

Liturgist: Join us now as we weep and name for God the sorrows and violence and needs throughout our world, for families ripped and torn, for those who live in terror every day, without enough to eat, without safety, without homes.

Reading from the Bible

How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful. (Psalm 80:4-5)

All:       You have fed us with the bread of tears.

A lament from Warsan Shire, from the poem Home

 no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

 

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

Singing Together

                         Room For Us All

 

Chorus 1

Your light came shining

Into this crying night

Bringing hope, bringing healing,

Your love revealing.

 

Your light came shining into this crying night

To say it's ok, there's room for all of us here.

 

Chorus 2

We are on this earth to love.

 

Gather our Tears

Liturgist:  We will now gather your laments collected in these jars and bring them to this barren tree. Pouring them out, we’ll water this tree with our tears.

 

Singing Together

            It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

 

It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth,
to touch their harps of gold:
'Peace on the earth, good will to all
from heaven's all-gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

 

And you, beneath life's crushing load
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing.

 

Prayer Over Our Tears

The liturgist reads a few of the laments from the people out loud at this time and then offers a few extemporaneous words and a prayer, reminding us that God keeps track of all our sorrows, collects all our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), because each tear matters. So even though we may sometimes wonder what God is doing in our lives and in our world, we can always cry out to God, like children cry out to their parents, “This is where it hurts!” and know that God hears us, God weeps with us, God is wholly and completely with us and for us. Jesus was called “Emmanuel,” “God with us” because Jesus is always born where the hurting are, in the middle of our longest nights. Our call is simply to follow Jesus and be with each other, as well… in our days and in our long nights, be with each other in our fears and tears and laments and longings, in our joy and sorrow. This is how new things grow. This is how we can all find our way to love.

 

 Singing Together

            Find Our Way to Love

 

Chorus

There is no “other”

There’s only us

On this trembling, tender earth.

And all of heaven is here with us

When we find our way to love,

When we find our way to love.

 

Coda

God so loves the world.

God so loves the world.

God so loves every one of us

So we can find our way to love,

So we can find our way to love.

 

Ribbons of Hope

Liturgist:  Sometimes it’s hard to find hope. Sometimes, in the middle of all that we see and hear and experience, having hope feels wrong.  As Cornel West has said: “For us in these times, to even have hope is too abstract, too detached, too spectatorial. Instead we must be a hope, a participant and a force for good.”

 How can we be a hope? How can we be a force for good in the world? How can we be the ones who show there’s another way?  We invite you to think about that, about what you will commit to do, to be a hope. To be a participant. To be a force for good.

It could be something as simple as “Be more kind.” Or “protest.” Or “Give money.” It could be “Love my neighbor as myself.” As we sing, we invite you to come forward and hang your ribbon on this tree, as a sign of your hope and commitment.)

 

Singing Response

            We Are on This Earth To Love

 

After the ribbons are placed on the tree the liturgist says:

We have watered this tree with our tears, and what has grown here are flowers of hope and leaves of love. When you came here tonight, you may have felt alone with your sorrow, alone in your fears, alone in your longing for a new day, a new way. But as we look at this tree, we can perhaps try to see and believe that we are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us. And we are with each other. Even the angels and heavens sing with us of the new day that’s coming…and that we can participate in creating together.  That is something that young Mary understood so well when she sang the words in Luke we call The Magnificat. Let us sing it with her. With all our hearts. 

 

Singing Together

            Holy Is Your Name

 

Chorus

Holy, holy, holy is your name.

Glory, glory, glory to your name.

 

The angels and the heavens sing

Of the new day that you bring.

They say, “Glory, glory, glory to your name.”

 

Bridge

The proud will fall,

The poor will see

That all hopes not lost,

And grace flows free.

 

 

Benediction

 

 

Choral Postlude

            Gloria in Excelsis Deo

 

 

 


Acknowledgements

 

This gathering was written and produced by the Plural Guild, led by Gary and Lenora Rand. It was originally created for a gathering held at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park and was made possible by their generous support, encouragement and participation.

Most of the songs used in this experience are on the recording, Advent & Christmas, Volume One, an album of 6 original songs and 3 carols by The Many.  The rest of the songs are from the recording, Waiting.  Both albums, and other music from The Many are available on the site, Bandcamp. The download of the album Waiting includes a pdf of this full liturgy.

 

 

Song Information

The Carols, Comfort, Comfort and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear were arranged by Hannah Rand.

Find Our Way to Love.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand. Music by Gary and Hannah Rand. © 2016 Plural Guild Music.

 Gloria in Excelsis Deo.   Music by Gary Rand.  © 2015 Helical Music.

 Holy is Your Name.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music. 

In This World.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Gary & Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Helical Music.

 Longest Nights.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music.

 Peace of God be With You.  Text:  Arabic greeting.  Music by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan.  © 2004 Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ.

 Room For All Of Us.  Words by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music.

 Waiting for You.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2016 Plural Guild Music.

 

 

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God With Us - Longest Night Small Group Gathering

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God With Us - Longest Night Small Group Gathering

This liturgy was created for a house concert/gathering in 2015 around the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night. It was designed to allow people to come together honestly in the midst of their struggles, questions, and grief, to pray and sing and seek God's hope, to wait for the light. The song, "Longest Nights," at the center of this liturgy, was written in response to the events of Ferguson, and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. "Room For Us All" was born out of lament for the 60 million refugees in our world right now, and for all those who find borders and doors - even church doors - slammed in their faces. "Remember Mercy" and "Holy Is Your Name" were both inspired by Mary's Magnificat, that revolutionary call from Luke's gospel for a new day, and a new way. 

You may download a PDF of the liturgy here.

 

Longest Night Worship

 

Singing Prelude

Peace of God be With You

           

Peace of God be with you.  Peace of God be with you.

Salaam.  Salaam.  Peace of God be with you.

 

Welcome

 

Singing Together

Longest Nights

 

Chorus:

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God with us. Love for us.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel, born into the longest nights Emmanuel.

 

Psalm Reading

Psalm 77: 1- 15   

 

One:   I cry aloud to God

I cry aloud, and God hears me.

 

Men:  

In times of trouble I pray to the Lord;

All night long I lift my hands in prayer,

But I cannot find comfort.

 

Women:

When I think of God I sigh;  

When I meditate I feel discouraged.

 

All:      This keeps me awake all night;

I am so worried that I cannot speak.

I think of days gone by and remember years of long ago.

           

One:   I spend the night in deep thought;

I meditate, and this is what I ask myself:

 

All:      Will the Lord always reject us?

Will God never again be pleased with us?

 

Women:

Has God stopped loving us?

           

Men:  

Does the word of the Lord no longer stand?

           

Women:       

Has God forgotten to be merciful?

           

One:   Has anger taken the place of compassion?

 

All:      I will remember your great deeds, Lord.

I will recall the wonders you did in the past.

I will think about all that you have done;

I will meditate on all your mighty acts.

           

Everything you do, O God, is holy.

No god is as great as you.

You are the God who works miracles;

You showed your might among the nations.

By your power you saved your people.

 

A Carol         

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

 

An Offering of Prayers

In Psalm 56:8 the Psalmist says to God: “You have my tears in your bottle.” That's quite a picture, isn't it? God, with this huge bottle of tears, the tears of all of us, keeping them, like each tear matters, makes a difference.

So tonight take the pen and slips of paper provided for each of you and write down what you're weeping about in your own life, and in our world, and place them in this bottle as we pass it around. Once we've gathered all the tears we will join in a moment of prayer together as we offer our tears to God. 

 

 

A Carol

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

 

Scripture Reading

Luke 1: 26 - 33

 

When Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary.   

 

When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”  She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.  

 

Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

 

Singing Together

God With Us

 

Chorus 1

Light of the world, Hope of glory

Man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.

Healer of Nations, Mighty God

Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace

 

Chorus 2

Jesus, Jesus  God with us

Jesus, Jesus  We sing  Gloria, Gloria,

Gloria, Gloria;   Gloria,  Gloria;  Gloria, Gloria!  

God with us.  God With Us

 

Scripture Reading

Luke 1: 39 – 42;  46 – 50

 

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.  She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.”

 

And Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.


From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy extends to those who honor him
    from generation to generation.”

 

Singing Together

            Remember Mercy

 

Chorus

Magnify, Glorify  (repeat)

You, O Lord, Remember Mercy.

           

Scripture Reading

Luke 2: 1 – 7

 

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists.  This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled.  Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.  

 

Joseph went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.  While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Singing Together

            Room for All of Us Here

 

Chorus 1

Your light came shining

Into this crying night

Bringing hope, bringing healing,

Your love revealing.

 

Your light came shining into this crying night

To say it's ok,

there's room for all of us here.

 

Chorus 2

We are on this earth to love.

 

A Monologue

I don’t know what you’ve heard about me. Everyone has heard something it seems. When I got pregnant, before I was married to Joseph, there was a lot of talk about me. None of it anything I’d want to repeat with small children present if you know what I mean. 

And then later, much later, after Jesus was born and grown, after he died and rose again, many of his followers began saying different kinds of things about me. About me being special in some way. Saint Mary or something. 

I just want to be clear. I was simply an ordinary girl. And ordinary small town girl with all the regular small town girl dreams and fears and desires. I slept and ate and worked and just lived, like you do. Everyday, just living. 

But then extraordinary things started happening to me. An angel making pronouncements in my bedroom. Carrying God’s child in my womb for 9 months. Giving birth to the whole world’s hope one night in a dingy stable. 

Through it all I kept wondering, why me? I’m nothing special. Why would God choose me? That night, after the labor was over and the baby was born I finally got some kind of answer. I was holding Jesus in my arms and I was feeding him from my breast. And he was hungry. He was thirsty. And I suddenly realized, this is what God is like. This is how hungry God is. As impossible as it sounds, God is that hungry for us. That hungry to be close to us. Thirsty for us in our very earthliness. In our complete ordinariness. 

Our ordinary human lives are like sweet mother’s milk to God.It came to me that night, what I’d never even glimpsed before. It came to me that what God really wants is to be with us and to drink us in. To simply drink us in and enjoy us. God stepped out of heaven to be born on earth as this tiny baby just to be closer to us. 

And I saw, that night in Bethlehem, that when we let God do that, when we let God get that close to us, as close as a mother and her newborn babe, we can finally see how extraordinary each moment of our lives is. And we can finally see how precious and loved each of us, each human being in this world, truly is. 

So...when you speak of me, when you say what you’ve heard about the mother of Jesus, say, “Mary was just an ordinary girl who discovered God’s extraordinary love for her.” 

Oh and by the way. Not just for me. For you too. For you too.”

Singing Together

Holy is Your Name

 

Chorus 1

Holy, holy, holy is your name.

Glory, glory, glory to your name.

 

The angels and the heavens sing

Of the new day that you bring

They say

Glory, glory, glory to your name

 

Chorus 2

The proud will fall,

The poor will see

That all hopes not lost,

And grace flows free.

           

Benediction

 

Singing Postlude

            Gloria in Excelsis Deo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mary monologue was written by Lenora Rand

Advent & Christmas 2015, an album of 6 original songs and 3 carols by The Many, is available for free streaming or download here:  http://noisetrade.com/themany/advent-christmas-2015

 

Song Information

 

The Carols, Comfort, Comfort and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear were arranged by Hannah Rand.

 

Gloria in Excelsis Deo.   Music by Gary Rand.  © 2015 Helical Music. Used with permission.

 

God With Us.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Gary Rand.  © 2015  Helical Music. Used with permission.

 

Holy is Your Name.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music.  Used with permission. Used with permission.

 

Peace of God be With You.  Text:  Arabic greeting.  Music by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan.  © 2004 Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ. Used with permission. OneLicense.net License #A-704703. http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/GG2013/448

 

Remember Mercy.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Elsa Harris and Gary Rand. © 2015 Harris & Rand Music. Used with permission.

 

Room For All Of Us.  Words by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music.  Used with permission.

 

Longest Nights.  Lyrics by Lenora Rand.  Music by Hannah Rand.  © 2015 Mirasion Music.  Used with permission. 




 

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Praying the Magnificat - Fourth Sunday of Advent

Comment

Praying the Magnificat - Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Magnificat, the song that Mary sings in the first chapter of Luke, feels like it could have been written yesterday. In a world torn apart by racism and economic injustice, by war and violence, a world in which the rich get richer and the poor are abandoned, these words are ones we need to hear loudly and clearly again during this advent season.

Think about incorporating this video created by SALT (available at www.saltproject.org) and the song "Holy Is Your Name," by the Many, written from the perspective of Mary, in your worship service. 

 

Video

Madonna photo credit: Dhammavicaya Piona (3 di 3).jpg via photopin (license)

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Confession - "O come, O come Emmanuel" - First Sunday of Advent

Comment

Confession - "O come, O come Emmanuel" - First Sunday of Advent

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT - Advent Year C 

Jeremiah 33: 14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-26

 

CONFESSION

(based on Psalm 25:4-5 – Lenora Rand, writer) 

(One person reads the words. Those gathered respond by singing from “O Come O Come Emmanuel”)

One: God, everyday we hear about something we can’t understand. Our souls cry out: How can this be happening? And we confess that sometimes, a lot of times, we can’t figure out what You’re doing. Why You don’t show up, why You don’t jump in, why You don’t just fix things.

All Singing:

         O come, o come Emmanuel,

            And ransom captive Israel,

            That mourns in lonely exile here,

            Until the Son of God appears.

One: God, everyday there’s something else that breaks our hearts. We brush shoulders with the bruised and broken. The wounded are all around us. The wounded are us. And, we confess that too much of the time, we can’t hear you. We can’t see You. When we try to pray, we find it hard to believe You are there. Hard to believe You care.

All Singing:

          O come, o come Emmanuel,

            And ransom captive Israel,

            That mourns in lonely exile here,

            Until the Son of God appears.

           

One: God, open our eyes, open our hearts, open our hands. Help us see the slivers of hope in our world, help us see and know your ways more clearly, recognize where you’re at work and how we can be a part of it. Teach us your paths and give us the courage to participate in your loving presence wherever it may be found.

WORDS OF ASSURANCE

All Singing:         

           Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel

            Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

 

 

Comment

Advent Reflection - Based on Luke 1: 5-25

Comment

Advent Reflection - Based on Luke 1: 5-25

by Lenora Rand

I have no clean underwear.

I’m a grown woman, “mature” even, and I have been traveling for work and putting in so many hours at the office and therefore not home enough to do laundry and now, it’s the Saturday before Christmas and I am finally ready to start having my lovely happy holiday, ready to start making the season bright… full out goodness and light… you know...the whole the Fa-la-la-la-palooza.

And I have no clean underwear.

Not to mention I am having some sort of dental emergency, which involves a lot of pain, for which I started on antibiotics last night. Words like abscess and root canal came into play, in the dentist’s office yesterday, and I was hurting so bad I just asked him to stick a couple of large needles of that numbing stuff into me, simply to have a few hours of relief. Which he did, God bless him.

And then there’s the state of the world.

Every time I’m ready to dive head first into the whole blissful angelswehaveheardonhigh Christmas celebration mode, there’s always something that stops me in my tracks. Just this morning I read on a friend’s Facebook feed about children sodomized on tape at Abu Ghraib. Mothers were arrested with young boys, and their boys were sodomized by the guards. How is this kind of evil not only possible but so pervasive? I don’t understand this at all. And it kills me. Where is God in all this? If God sent his Son to save the world from death and sin and evil, frankly, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Many of us carry around this picture of what the holidays are supposed to look like and frankly, that picture is a lot prettier and simpler and less confusing than what we actually get.

It reminded me of one of the Bible stories you hear during Advent, about the birth of John the Baptist (who, if you’re not into the Bible much, John turns out to be a big player in the story of Jesus).

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to hang out with her older cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was also pregnant at the time, with John the Baptist. Unlike young unwed mother-to-be Mary, Elizabeth, and her husband, the priest Zachariah, had been trying to have a baby for a long time.  Praying for one. For years and years. When an angel shows up at Zachariah’s work to tell him the good news that what he and Elizabeth have wanted and wished for and prayed for all these years is finally going to happen, Zack didn’t exactly start jumping up and down. He was actually kinda crotchedy about the whole thing. Probably because this miracle he’d been hoping for didn’t look the way he expected it to. When the angel gave him the news he practically said, Are you kidding me? After all this time? I was expecting this 20-30 years ago not now, not like this.

Zachariah had the angel Gabriel standing right in front of him and he’s not buying it…because the miracle he’s getting doesn’t match the picture perfect one he has in his head.  And Gabriel says, Hello. I’m Gabriel. I sit next to God. And that’s when the Bible says Gabriel got a bit pissy and strikes Zachariah dumb, unable to speak for a while -- kind of the angelic equivalent of a slap upside the head.

So, today, I’m going to try to take the lack of clean underwear and the excruciating dental emergency, and even the friggin crappy state of the world as my angelic slap upside the head.

A reminder that maybe, the picture-perfect picture of what we’re supposed to have can get in the way of seeing the beauty and wonder and miracle of the imperfection that we do have. Right in front of us.

A reminder to open my eyes to all that is perfectly imperfect in my life. And embrace it.

So over the next week or so, here’s how I’m going to try to have an imperfectly merry little Christmas.  

Make imperfect Christmas cookies. Not because they will end up tasting that good or looking like something you’d find on Pinterest, but because my daughters still want to make them with me even though they are both in college and you would think, so beyond such a thing.

Sing Christmas songs, loudly and possibly badly. I have found something happens when you sing, not even well, not like the perfectly coiffed people on American Idol, rather than just watching others do it. It seems like when you open your mouth and let sounds other than rational words come out, miraculously, that opens your heart a crack too. I do not understand how this happens, I only know that it does. And this not only seems to happen with singing…laughter and tears will do too.

Give imperfect Christmas gifts. I always want to give the perfect gift, the one that says to the person “I know you, I love you, you matter so much to me.” Unfortunately, that kind of gift is very difficult to find. Even on the internet. And especially when you’re working way too many hours. So I’m going to do my best, and then, maybe along with whatever I give, I’ll just add those words, too, out loud. And apologize that there isn’t anything I could buy or make that really equals love.

Love my imperfect world. With an imperfect love. This is so hard for me. I know I mention this all the time, but seriously, I really don’t understand why if God is God, he or she doesn’t intervene more. Stop the insanity. Do some major smiting. Use the lightning bolts.

Just fix things.

I heard this quote from Shane Claiborne recently: “For some strange reason, God doesn't want to change the world without us.”  And it IS strange, it’s crazy really, that God wants our imperfect asses in the game, in this “making the world right” game.

This is not the miracle I would do, if I were God.

But in Isaiah 56:1 God says: Guard my common good:    Do what’s right and do it in the right way. For salvation is just around the corner, my setting-things-right is about to go into action.”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do, to have a merry little Christmas.

Do what’s right to the best of my ability -- be kind, be present, speak up, live generously, offer grace, show love. Also, make Christmas cookies. Sing. Give some gifts.

I can guarantee that I won’t do any of that perfectly.

In fact, if I do any of it well at all, that will be a miracle.

And now, I’m going to start by washing some underwear.

Gloria. In excelsis Deo.

 

 

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Mary's Story - A Christmas Eve Monologue

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Mary's Story - A Christmas Eve Monologue

I don’t know what you’ve heard about me. Everyone has heard something it seems. When I got pregnant, before I was married to Joseph, there was a lot of talk about me. None of it anything I’d want to repeat with small children present if you know what I mean. 

And then later, much later, after Jesus was born and grown, after he died and rose again, many of his followers began saying different kinds of things about me. About me being special in some way. Saint Mary or something. 

I just want to be clear. I was simply an ordinary girl. And ordinary small town girl with all the regular small town girl dreams and fears and desires. I slept and ate and worked and just lived, like you do. Everyday, just living. 

But then extraordinary things started happening to me. An angel making pronouncements in my bedroom. Carrying God’s child in my womb for 9 months. Giving birth to the whole world’s hope one night in a dingy stable. 

Through it all I kept wondering, why me? I’m nothing special. Why would God choose me? That night, after the labor was over and the baby was born I finally got some kind of answer. I was holding Jesus in my arms and I was feeding him from my breast. And he was hungry. He was thirsty. And I suddenly realized, this is what God is like. This is how hungry God is. As impossible as it sounds, God is that hungry for us. That hungry to be close to us. Thirsty for us in our very earthliness. In our complete ordinariness. 

Our ordinary human lives are like sweet mother’s milk to God.It came to me that night, what I’d never even glimpsed before. It came to me that what God really wants is to be with us and to drink us in. To simply drink us in and enjoy us. God stepped out of heaven to be born on earth as this tiny baby just to be closer to us. 

And I saw, that night in Bethlehem, that when we let God do that, when we let God get that close to us, as close as a mother and her newborn babe, we can finally see how extraordinary each moment of our lives is. And we can finally see how precious and loved each of us, each human being in this world, truly is. 

So...when you speak of me, when you say what you’ve heard about the mother of Jesus, say, “Mary was just an ordinary girl who discovered God’s extraordinary love for her.” 

Oh and by the way. Not just for me. For you too. For you too.”

 

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